Via SalonEvidence demonstrating the medicinal value of cannabis among the elderly continues to pour in. The latest scientific study, this one from Israel, reveals that patients over the age of 65 benefit greatly from the herbal treatment.
According to the research paper published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine,
“The therapeutic use of cannabis is safe and efficacious in the elderly population.” Even more promising is the report’s conclusion that “cannabis use may decrease the use of other prescription medicines, including opioids.”
The research authors, all from Israel — the nation that leads the world in cannabis research — included renowned scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, considered to be the father of cannabis research.
According to the study:
During the study period, 2736 patients above 65 years of age began cannabis treatment and answered the initial questionnaire. The mean age was 74.5 ± 7.5 years. The most common indications for cannabis treatment were pain (66.6 percent) and cancer (60.8 percent). After six months of treatment, 93.7 percent of the respondents reported improvement in their condition and the reported pain level was reduced from a median of 8 on a scale of 0-10 to a median of 4. Most common adverse events were: dizziness (9.7 percent) and dry mouth (7.1 percent). After six months, 18.1% stopped using opioid analgesics or reduced their dose.
Just to hammer the main point: Nearly every patient (93.7 percent) reported improvement in their condition and reported less pain. There are not too many medications — prescription or over-the-counter — that have this kind of success rate.
According to the research authors, the results suggest that elderly patients, who are commonly taking a handful of medications a day, would be able to cut back by simply incorporating cannabis into their wellness regimen.
Just two weeks ago, the daytime talk show The Doctors examined the skyrocketing use of senior citizens turning to cannabis for medicinal purposes. Producer Leslie Marcus traveled to one of the biggest retirement communities in the nation, where she met a group of seniors who say they are now choosing marijuana instead of prescription meds.
Cannabis appears to be an effective medication for many diseases and ailments that often strike in older age, such as arthritis, muscle pain, sleep disorders, mild depression, Alzheimer’s and a host of others.
Sitting in the living room of her beautiful 1930s Northeast Portland home, Judy Fisher puffs on a vape pen of cannabidiol oil. As she exhales, a hint of lavender permeates the room.
At age 70, Fisher has discovered the benefits of cannabis.
“I’m a disciple,” she said. “I would go out and give testimonials if I didn’t think the feds were going to come and put me on the no-fly list.”
Fisher is among a growing number of Oregon seniors using marijuana extracts to treat aches and ailments. She’s not looking for a high — “If I wanted to get a buzz, I really like bourbon,” she said.
Rather, she’s using products made from cannabidiol oil, also called CBD.
“Until I understood about CBD, I thought people who got medical marijuana cards did it so they could get high and get it cheaper,” Fisher said. “I was uninformed.”
While tetrahydrocannabinol — THC — is the component that gives marijuana users a high, the compound she uses has no intoxicating effects. It’s been shown to be beneficial in treating nerve pain, insomnia, anxiety and other disorders without threat of overdose.
But the federal government makes no distinction between the two components. It’s all related to marijuana and thus considered a schedule 1 drug — as dangerous by classification as heroin. Fisher is especially worried now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has rescinded the Obama-era policy of non-interference with state marijuana laws.
The two components derived from cannabis “are completely different but the government hasn’t made that distinction, and certainly Jeff Sessions doesn’t know anything about it,” she said. “Nobody is talking about the science of these products, and that’s hindering advances in medical care.”
For about the past year, Fisher, a retired nurse practitioner, has been spreading the gospel: in her painting class, at the gym, to women experiencing sleepless nights from menopause. She’s walked into “the local pot shop” with friends, guiding them through an often intimidating process for seniors new to cannabis.
Her journey started after Oregon legalized small amounts of home-grown marijuana in 2015.
“My son and I thought it would be a lark to grow some pot in our backyard because we could, and it was fun and we named the plants,” she said. “We harvested it and I never really used it because I discovered I don’t like smoking that stuff.”
Not long afterward, Fisher herniated a disc in her back, and she’s had chronic nerve pain ever since. She began researching the medicinal benefits of cannabis and cannabidiol oil, but when she talked to her doctors about it, they offered little help or recommendations.
“We have heard all of the arguments. It’s a gateway drug. It needs to be FDA approved. It would send a wrong message to our youth. It will get into the hands of the abuser. It’s federally illegal….Our family finds all of these arguments to be nothing short of insulting.”
The percentage of supporters and opponents testifying Thursday at a Judiciary Committee hearing on a resolution that seeks to put legalization of medical marijuana on the 2018 ballot closely mirrored results of a statewide survey conducted last year.
About 77 percent of those testifying supported the resolution (LR293CA) brought by Lincoln Sen. Anna Wishart that would allow people in the state to vote on the issue in November, but others opposed it — including two state government officials.
Parents of children with difficult medical conditions and people with persistent pain, who said they could be helped by the drug that is legal in at least 38 states, pleaded with the committee for its support.
But the Nebraska Attorney General’s office came close to threatening a challenge if such a law was passed.
By the time senators had listened to an hour of difficult-to-hear stories about people’s desperation for something to help them or their children, several of the committee members had grown frustrated with the continued opposition from state officials.
Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post said that if LR293CA were passed, it would be illegal by federal law, which would preempt any enabling legislation by senators. Until and unless Congress would modify its clear prohibition, any regulatory attempt by Nebraska to facilitate, promote or license marijuana products, would be illegal.
There were a number of ways, he said, to challenge a state legalization: A criminal defendant’s challenge to a conviction, a civil action by a person who opposed the law, or the attorney general weighing in himself.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist responded to the threat.
“I wish you’d look internally,” Krist said, “because you tried to buy drugs that were illegal to be put into this country so you could carry out the death penalty. So start with yourself. Look in the mirror.”
The state’s chief medical officer, Thomas Williams, and a doctor, Lincoln anesthesiologist Monica Oldenburg, said they couldn’t support it without more research, assurance about the purity of dosages and better physician knowledge on how to prescribe it, which they don’t learn in medical school.
“Both in its pure form and its metabolized form, cannabinoids are extremely complex molecules,” Williams said.
Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said people were tired of hearing more research was needed. Those studies just weren’t getting done because they are challenging and complex to do.
“We have people who are in actual pain,” she said.
“We know that the large (pharmaceutical companies) are putting up every barrier possible. … It’s sad. And because this has gone on for so long, we’re at this point where the people are saying, ‘Enough. If you won’t move on it we’ll bring a constitutional amendment and we will have people vote.”
Before the opponents spoke, supporters at the hearing had literally begged for the committee to support Wishart’s resolution.
“Medical cannabis is about freedom of choice,” said Lia McDowell-Post, who suffers from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. “Will you be the people that stand in the way of this freedom, or will you help make it a necessary change? I implore you. I will get on my knees and beg you to put medical cannabis to a vote and allow the people of Nebraska to rise up and have a voice.”
Shelley Gillen, whose son has a rare form of epilepsy, said her family has begged senators for five years to make the drug legal.
“We have heard all of the arguments. It’s a gateway drug. It needs to be FDA approved. It would send a wrong message to our youth. It will get into the hands of the abuser. It’s federally illegal,” she said. “Our family finds all of these arguments to be nothing short of insulting.”
Many of the FDA approved medications her son has been on are gateway drugs themselves, she said, as well as having horrendous side effects. She called on the committee to act quickly.
“Precious lives are at stake,” she said.
Christina Hitz, whose 19-year-old son has intractable epilepsy and was accepted into a University of Nebraska Medical Center study of Epidiolex, a drug derived from a compound found in cannabis.
“The year prior to starting CBD oil, my son had 60 seizures. In 10 months since taking Epidiolex, he’s had three,” she said.
Amy Miller, legal director for ACLU of Nebraska, took a different approach. She testified that Nebraska is third in the country for the most marijuana possession arrests per capita, behind New York and the District of Columbia. Seventy-three percent of drug arrests in the state are for marijuana, she said.
It’s “something that I think is shocking to most people and is a clear explanation why Sen. Wishart’s measure needs to move forward,” she said.
Miller wanted to make sure senators know they are on safe ground with the 10th Amendment to move forward on legalizing medical cannabis. Principles of federalism support states’ rights to legalize cannabis, she said.
At 8-and-a-half months old, Sophie Ryan was diagnosed with a rare optic pathway glioma brain tumor. After her diagnosis, she underwent major brain surgery, to remove a cyst and biopsy the tumor to (to be sure it wasn’t terminal), many extended hospital stays, and over nine blood transfusions. Her treatment included the cannibidoids THC and CBD, which worked to decrease her tumor and cyst along with fighting blindness. Within two months, the tumor started shrinking. Sophie is now 5 years old and has seen astronomical progress in reducing the size of her tumor. Ryan’s mother, Tracy Ryan, has become an advocate of medical marijuana for children.
The problem to date has been acquiring enough of the plant to be able to conduct long-term studies and prove scientifically what is causing the success.
A majority of Americans (64 percent) support legalization of marijuana, according to an October 2017 Gallup poll. Still, there is currently a degree of trepidation around its use for pediatric ailments, which manifested in hysteria around the death of an 11-month-old in Colorado in November, said to be the first “marijuana overdose death” at the time, then walked back by the doctors who have clarified that they are not saying marijuana caused the death. This reticence is normal: each wave of medical innovation triggers the debate about how far is too far to treat disease. In the past, these arguments arose over vaccines, surgery, and chemotherapy. Today, the argument is on medicinal marijuana.
“We all want the best for our children,” researcher Adie Poe, Ph.D, says “no matter what our origins or political inclinations are, we can all agree that their their health and safety are a priority.” She says that there have been “extremely promising” preliminary results where cannabis has been used to treat pediatric ailments; epilepsy has received attention, but there have also been Israeli trials for kids with Autism (Israel was one of the first countries to permit medical marijuana in the 1990s), and Poe says she has seen “profound case studies for Crohn’s patients as well.” Poe is the co-founder of research organization research organization Habu health, which researches and advocates for cannabis products.
“[Many conditions] respond effectively to cannabis-related treatment PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, MS, cancer, epilepsy, HIV… the list is long,” says Stormy Simon, an e-commerce expert, formerly the president of Overstock.com, who now works as a cannabis advocate and serves on the board of CannaKids. “The problem to date has been acquiring enough of the plant to be able to conduct long-term studies and prove scientifically what is causing the success among this diverse list of ailments.”
According to Sunil Aggarwal MD Ph.D, who is with the Sage Med Integrative Medicine practice and a clinical instructor at the University of Washington school of medicine, the marijuana discussion is a lot more complex than ensuring the safety of children, it’s about getting over fear associated with stigma — particularly since the FDA has provided guidelines for doctors to give synthetic THC pillos, like Marinol, to children since 1985. That is, its application for use as a medicine is not new.
The lingering stigma around marijuana makes a change to the current legislation difficult, according to Poe. “Stigma is indirectly responsible for this conundrum in that re- or de-scheduling would be a very bold, stigma-defying move on the behalf of Congress, the attorney general, or even the president,” she says. “This amendment to the Controlled Substances Act would require that these federal leaders drop their stigma and look at the evidence that supports cannabis as at best a Schedule II drug, with valid medical use and some addictive potential.”
Prior to 1937, when the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, the plant was considered a medicine. Its subsequent labeling as a Schedule 1 drug has restricted research into its pharmaceutical benefits.
“The past 80 years have been fraught with campaigns and terror against cannabis,” said Simon.
The deliberate smear campaign of marijuana paired with so little time researching its effects leaves no surprise we are so underinformed.
According to Poe, being classified as Schedule 1 leads to funding obstacles which further limit research opportunities.
“The only federal agency that gives this type of research funding is the National Institute on Drug Abuse,” she says. “However, NIDA’s mission is to prevent drug abuse, and they view cannabis as an addictive drug… because it is a Schedule I drug with ‘no accepted medical value.'”
Contrary to popular belief, marijuana has methods of use that don’t involve smoking or “getting high.” The type of cannabis oil extracted, CBD, as opposed to the THC most people are familiar with, determines the interaction with the body. CBD, which is more often discussed in medical terms, has less influence than THC. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t unique benefits for each of them. THC is more often used during chemotherapy, AIDS treatment, and post spinal injury because it can assist with decreased appetite and tremors. CBD is more commonly used for joint pain like arthritis and for treating depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.
Marijuana and its related products have long been associated with unlawful behavior and teenage delinquents, despite evidence that it is less harmful than alcohol. Cannabis, or “weed,” as it’s often called, has kept that stigma through the years and is consequently fighting a fierce battle for widespread legalization.
Despite the above preconceptions, the last few decades of research have found promising outcomes for chronic illness and THC. Tales like that of Sophie Ryan offer the public an opportunity to rethink their position.
In hopes of filling that need, Tracy Ryan founded CannaKids to fight for all the children like her daughter who can find relief through cannabis.
“The problem is, we are still guessing as to what these patients need. Without human trials we are basing our dosing protocols on anecdotal evidence we have tracked without knowing genetically what’s happening at the patient level,” Ryan tells me. “We are currently funding ground-breaking research at the Technion Institute in Israel under Professor Dedi Meiri, but we need more human trials starting right here in the U.S. It’s time for our government to work with us and not against us so patients can have this amazing tool.”
Young Sophie was one of two children featured in Weed the People, a film that aimed to increase awareness of what children with chronic illness have to gain from cannabis treatment. She gets daily doses of cannabis oil orally in addition to her chemotherapy.
According to a recent interview on The Doctors, the treatments have done something Sophie and her parents never thought was possible: preserve her vision and shrink her tumor.
“I believe this oil has helped my child on so many levels, not only has it helped preserve her vision,” Tracy Ryan said in the interview, “but her neurologist told us she had a 100 percent chance of going blind with minimal vision in the right eye being a best-case scenario. We shrank that tumor by 85 to 90 percent that first 13 months and the tumor was not supposed to shrink.”
CannaKids aims to support and increase awareness of other children like Sophie who might find hope in medical marijuana.
“[It] can be a touchy subject, however, they are starting the conversation,” says Simon. “You would be far stretched to find someone who can argue with the success Sophie has had, and Sophie is one of thousands of children battling a disease that could benefit from cannabis.”
Proponents of medical marijuana for children believe that more light shed on its use will convert people to its safety and necessity.
“The only thing I would ask is that anyone who is scared of CBD and/or THC,” says Simon, “[is] take the time to educate yourself about the history of cannabis, why it became a Schedule 1 drug and the medicinal benefits that people around the world are experiencing before you make a final decision on where you place judgement on the subject.”
The applications could be far-reaching, says Aggarwal, who says that, while still in the research stage, “I’ve seen children who have severe explosive disorder who have increased calm and engagement in school through the use of THC and CBD.”
“After watching my own daughter’s success with medical cannabis over the last four years, we have dedicated our lives to helping patients around the world get access to this incredible plant,” says Ryan. CannaKids works with patients of all ages, Ryan has not only seen countless symptoms eased with medication, but “eradication of diseases in some patients that had no chance of survival,” she says.
But fear remains. Although the autopsy of the 11-month-old who died in Denver, Colo., revealed myocarditis — an inflammation of his whole heart muscle — the headline had already had an impact, incorrectly touting the death as the “first marijuana overdose death.”
Despite medical consensus, it sparks concerns in parents. Simon understands the fear.
“There are many misconceptions and stigmas about using cannabis in general, so when it comes to administering the plant as a medicine to children, I can understand the fear. I don’t know of any parent who forgoes Western medicine for their children and transitions to a complete cannabis regimen,” she says. “The plant doesn’t work for everything on everyone but the fact that it may work or help, whether it’s for seizures, anxiety or cancer, to me means, it should be available to all, even children.”
Aggarwal emphasizes the importance of knowing how medical marijuana use will interact with other aspects of your child’s life, like school. “There are still some legal hangups [related to administering cannabis] to children. Will the school be OK with that, if they are in school? Who will administer during school hours?” he explained.
Since most schools receive federal dollars there are restrictions on what they can and cannot do. Recently, two Illinois parents sued Schaumburg-based District 54 on the basis that their policy prohibiting the use of marijuana on school grounds violates the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Illinois Attorney General told the federal court he would allow her to administer the drug as treatment for her leukemia-related seizures.
Marijuana, like any medication, needs to be administered according to a doctor’s advice to make sure it doesn’t contraindicate any other medications. Lastly, Aggarwal advocates choosing trustworthy retailers. “Make sure you have suppliers who have reliable third-party test products. Make sure they are safe, clean, and that you know its dose so you can follow it,” he says.
The risks are low, but a more enlightened attitude toward the value of medical marijuana, and opening up of the roadblocks to testing would ultimately result in a safer drug and greater access for children in need. We owe it to them to research the benefits and consequences objectively. Their futures depend on it.
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple’s chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study.
About 15 percent of couples experience infertility. Infertility costs the US healthcare system more than $5 billion per year, and thus identifying modifiable risk factors for infertility, including recreational drug use, is of public health importance. Marijuana is one of the most widely used recreational drugs among individuals of reproductive age. Previous studies have examined the effects of marijuana use on reproductive hormones and semen quality, with conflicting results.
“Given the increasing number of states legalizing recreational marijuana across the nation, we thought it was an opportune time to investigate the association between marijuana use and fertility,” says lead author Lauren Wise, professor of epidemiology at the Boston University School of Public Health.
In Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), a web-based prospective cohort study of North American couples, the researchers surveyed 4,194 women aged 21 to 45 living in the United States or Canada. The study specifically targeted women in stable relationships who were not using contraception or fertility treatment. Female participants had the option to invite their male partners to participate; 1,125 of their male partners enrolled.
The researchers found that during the period from 2013 through 2017, approximately 12 percent of female participants and 14 percent of male participants reported marijuana use in the two months before completing the baseline survey. After 12 cycles of follow-up, conception probabilities were similar among couples that used marijuana and those that did not.
The researchers stressed that questions about the effects of marijuana use remain. As one example, they say, classifying people correctly according to the amount of marijuana used, especially when relying on self-reported data, is challenging. “Future studies with day-specific data on marijuana use might better be able to distinguish acute from chronic effects of marijuana use, and evaluate whether effects depend on other factors,” they write.
Additional coauthors are from Boston University and Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is blaming overdose deaths on the movement to legalize marijuana and reform drug laws.
“In recent years, there was an erosion of support for anti-drug law enforcement — in Congress, in state legislatures, and even among some of the general public,” Sessions said in a speech at a Drug Enforcement Administration graduation ceremony on Friday. “One law enforcement professional told me that he felt disappointed that government officials didn’t seem to understand the importance of his work. Resources were redirected. What has been the result? We saw drug purity and availability go up and drug prices go down. We saw addiction and death spread like never before.”
Legalization advocates pushed back strongly against Sessions’s new claim that support for drug law reform is tied to increased drug deaths.
“If Attorney General Jeff Sessions was serious about combating the opioid crisis, then he would do two things, support the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes and advocate for an expansion of licensed physicians abilities to recommend marijuana to treat a range of ailments including the biggest contributor to addiction, chronic pain,” Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told Marijuana Moment. “The data clearly lays out that medical marijuana is associated with a 36% drop in opioid abuse rates and nearly a 25% reduction in overdose fatalities.”